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Study information

Hidden Voices in Early Modern Philosophy

Module titleHidden Voices in Early Modern Philosophy
Module codePHL2127
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Kirsten Walsh (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

If you’ve studied even a little bit of early modern philosophy, you could be forgiven for thinking that traditionally philosophy was only practiced by wealthy white men. This couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, the early modern period is significant for its high levels of philosophical activity, and diversity of philosophical thought. However, the tendency to focus on the work of the ‘Canonical Seven’, Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Leibniz, Berkeley, Hume and Kant, has led to the marginalisation of many philosophers of the period. This module begins to redress this imbalance by showcasing the writings of some of the women and other minority philosophers who were silenced by the philosophical canon. We shall explore topics such as metaphysics, epistemology, morality, and feminism through the writings of philosophers such as Anne Conway, Margaret Cavendish, Damaris Cudworth Masham and Mary Astell—the hidden voices of early modern philosophy.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Students will gain name-recognition of, and appreciation for, some non-canonical early modern philosophers. They will gain some knowledge of why these philosophers have been largely ignored, as well as what we gain by studying them. Through the work of these non-canonical philosophers, students will gain a good understanding of some key philosophical problems addressed during the early modern period, including their rationale and various attempts at solving them. By making a critical study of these topics, focusing on primary texts, students’ skills in the analysis, evaluation and presentation of arguments will be enhanced.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Identify and discuss the questions, themes and topics addressed by some early modern philosophers.
  • 2. Distinguish and evaluate certain positions and arguments within early modern philosophy.
  • 3. Read and understand early modern philosophical texts in their historical and philosophical context.
  • 4. Critically reflect on the methodological challenges of exploring the work of non-canonical philosophers.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Demonstrate a good understanding of the interrelation between historical events and philosophical developments.
  • 6. Demonstrate sound knowledge of different types of philosophical analysis.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Demonstrate an expanded philosophical vocabulary and understanding with respect to key ideas in early modern philosophy.
  • 8. Engage in complex arguments both orally and through writing.
  • 9. Conduct research independently engaging with complex ideas and problems.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some of the following topics:


1)     Gender and the Philosophical Canon.


2)     Margaret Cavendish and The Blazing World.


3)     Anne Conway and Principles of Ancient and Modern Philosophy


4)     Emilie Du Chatelet and Physical Institutions


5)     Mary Astell and A Serious Proposal to the Ladies


6)     Catharine Trotter Cockburn and A Defense of Mr. Locke’s Essay of Human Understanding


7)     Lady Mary Shepherd and Essays on the Perception of an External Universe

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities22Weekly 2-hour lectures/seminars or 1 hour lecture + 1 hour seminar
Guided Independent Study45Preparation for lectures and tutorial participation including reading, and preparing reading reports and answers to tutorial questions.
Guided Independent Study83Independent research for the first and final essays.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Final Essay DraftDraft of final essay1-9Peer review

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Reading reports10750 words1-4Written and Oral
Essay301000 words1-8Written
Final Essay602000 words1-9Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Reading reportsLiterature summary (750 words)1-4August/September reassessment period
First EssayEssay (1000 words)1-8August/September reassessment period
Final EssayEssay (2000 words)1-9August/September reassessment period

Re-assessment notes

For obvious reasons, re-assessments cannot be the same as the original assessment and so these alternatives are set. In cases where the form of assessment is the same, the content will nevertheless be different.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Atherton, Margaret (Ed.) (1994), Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period, Hackett Publishing Company.
  • Broad, Jacqueline (Ed.) (2020), Women Philosophers of Seventeenth-Century England: Selected Correspondence, Oxford University Press.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE – College to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

Key words search

Early Modern Philosophy, 17th-century philosophy, 18th-century philosophy, Feminist Philosophy, Emilie du Chatelet, Anne Conway, Margaret Cavendish, Mary Astell.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date